Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Danger of Pinterest Fitness

Pinterest, the wildly popular virtual-hoarding site, is a great place for planning your next meals, wardrobe choices, or crafty house projects. But as I've followed it throughout the last few months, I've grown more and more concerned with the boards that boast "fitness", but actually promote unhealthy attitudes about weight and physical appearance.

Like most women, I have dealt with my fair share of "body issues". Before I was diagnosed with Celiac, I was an incredibly underweight pre-teen. Cutting gluten from my diet and entering adolescence at the same time led to weight-gain. While I was still well within a healthy weight range, the rapidity of the weight-gain resulted in stretch marks, clothes that suddenly didn't fit, and a wary sense that my body wasn't working or looking quite like it should. I'm not going to go into details of my struggles, but for years I fought with myself over what I deemed an "acceptable" weight and appearance; it wasn't until I learned to enjoy exercise for its mental and emotional benefits that I really learned to love what my body was capable of. With this new love for my physical self, I settled into a weight that is comfortable for me, and I rarely feel guilty about what foods I eat; I no longer exercise with the idea of "burning off" any particular food, and I definitely don't exercise as punishment.

Images of "perfect" bodies, and tips and hints for attaining this so-called perfection, inundate us constantly. By "us" I mean "people", but I mostly mean "women." And these days, you don't need to subscribe to a monthly magazine to get your fill of rock-hard (or willowy thin) bodies. The internet has opened a sneaky window that allows us to badger ourselves without paying a dime.

So, back to Pinterest. Many of the boards on the site are dedicated to healthy, low-fat, low-carb, or low-calorie recipes. Fine. I'm not one to tell anyone to not eat healthfully, and why would I? With a rising obesity problem in America, we do need to worry about what we eat. I tend to go by the "everything in moderation" rule of thumb, but if someone wants to use low-calorie sweeteners in their foods to cut calories, that's their prerogative.

No; my problem centers more on the "fitness" boards. There are lists of "safe" foods for snacking or dieting. (My objection is the term "safe"...it's a word that calls to mind disordered eating habits.) There are photos of waif-like models with comments below like "Someday..." or "I wish I had her body". There are posts upon posts of leg, ab, and butt exercises promising results that can't possibly be accurate for all women. (Our bodies all build muscle differently; your waist may shrink, but that doesn't mean your body will then look the same as the model's body.) There are quotes meant to make you think twice before you eat (whether you were going for chocolate or carrots) and that strive to convince you that the body you want can't possibly go along with eating your usual 1200-1400 calories a day. These particularly raise a red flag for me. Being guilted into not eating isn't a healthy motivational technique.

I'm not saying that we should avoid websites that promote exercise and wellness. I'm not even saying to avoid the fitness boards on Pinterest. But a LARGE grain of salt is needed when skimming these boards. And if you're someone who is susceptible to exercise-as-punishment or food-withholding tendencies, then navigating these boards can be akin to navigating a minefield.

In short, the boards can be triggering.

There are many boards out there that do their best to keep the pins positive. These boards are worth going through. I've found lots of motivating quotes and ideas to re-pin to my own fitness board, and I try to keep that board focused on stretches, running techniques, and motivational quotes that aren't about making me feel guilty. I have noticed in the past couple weeks that Pinterest is beginning to sway more toward the "health is more than a number on the scale" route, which is awesome; I'd like to see more of it, and I hope that kind of attitude continues to spread. I've even seen some excellent comments on the more counter-productive pins suggesting the pinner "eat healthy, exercise, and be good" to themselves, instead of reaching for dangerous goals.

In the meantime, while this shift continues, remember that fitness, health, and exercise are about more than your physical body. Your mental and emotional well-being are also affected by food and activity. Seek motivation that doesn't seek to hamper you or make you feel negatively about your choices, but instead pushes you forward. Be purposeful about what kinds of articles you seek out. Are you looking for an easy answer, a "10 minute fixer"? Good luck with that. Don't believe the photoshopping or the strangers posting that they SWEAR a certain crash diet worked for them. Even if they're telling the truth, they're not you. Their experience may not be yours.

And perhaps I have it easy, because massive weight-loss was never my goal, but I've long believed that working out is about more than physical appearance or what the scale tells you. I seek those who share that same view, and they keep me on a path that veers away from the dangers of disordered exercising. They keep me on the path to happiness and fitness on all levels - not just the physical.



  1. thanks for posting this. I've seen a ton of the "strong is the new skinny" as well, which I also have some qualms with (depending on how it is portrayed). cheers to health!

    1. The "strong is the new skinny" bit is all over pinterest, for sure. And I almost see it as people trying to hide what they're really after...IDK, I, too, have some qualms there. But I'll definitely raise my glass to your cheers!